Bears

With Khalil Mack causing chaos, an NFC North title is there for the Bears

If someone had told me a month ago that the Bears would be in first place four games into the season, I would have reacted the way I do to an email from the Ivory Coast telling me that, through the blessings of our benevolent creator, I am the beneficiary of $10 Million United States Dollars.

I would have discarded it.

But the 3-1 Bears are indeed atop the NFC North, they’re favored to win on the road Sunday and the rest of the division is in disarray at the moment.

Oh, and they have linebacker Khalil Mack, which probably should have been the first sentence of this column and any story about why the Bears have an excellent chance of winning the North title.

Bears linebacker Khalil Mack celebrates after stripping the football against the Buccaneers at Soldier Field on Sept. 30. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Packers look oddly lost.

The Vikings have forgotten how to play defense, their forte.

The Lions are the Lions.

And the Bears have Khalil Mack.

First place isn’t foreign territory around here. The Bears had some pretty good years under Lovie Smith, though that feels like a lifetime ago. OK, a centenarian’s lifetime ago. But, still, we do remember first place. It’s the speed with which it has arrived that feels so strange. It’s a hurry-up attack that few of us saw coming.

The only thing that matters is whether it’s real and whether it has staying power. As long as Mack, an evildoer on defense, stays with the Bears and as long as he and the rest of the top players stay healthy, this thing is real.

It’s at this point in the conversation that, by law, the subject of Mitch Trubisky must come up. What he is, who he’ll be, what’s with the beard, etc. It’s clear that he’s a leading actor in this production. But what has become clearer is that, regardless of the quarterback’s ups and downs, Mack is the antidote to anything that could ail the Bears. Even if Trubisky sinks now and then, Mack lifts all boats.

You don’t worry about the great ones. You don’t worry about superstars’ play falling off. Mack’s stats might not always be as gaudy as they are now (five sacks and four forced fumbles). Opponents will concentrate on him to the point of distraction. But a slump? No. Did you ever worry about Michael Jordan going through a slump? Walter Payton? I know: Mack has played just four games for the Bears. But that’s where his talent level is. No reason for us to run away from it – unless we’re carrying a football.

The only game the Bears have lost in this young season was Mack’s debut. He ran out of gas against the Packers after missing the preseason during a contract dispute with the Raiders that led to a trade to Chicago. Before his fuel supply ran out, he had a sack, a fumble recovery and an interception return for a touchdown. That’s when we knew.

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He makes everyone around him better. He makes the other team worse.

If linebacker Leonard Floyd can ever get somewhere in the vicinity of good health, he could be a huge factor for the Bears. He’s incredibly quick, but he’s as skinny as a down-marker pole. On his own, he might – might – be able to have an effect. With Mack double-teamed, Floyd should be able to get to the quarterback more often. That’s if he can stay healthy. And not get hurt. And avoid injury.

So … NFC North champions. Why not? The Bears’ schedule isn’t a scary bedtime story. Two teams will be huge challenges at Soldier Field – the Patriots (Oct. 21) because they always are and the Rams (Dec. 9) because their offense has been unstoppable.

If the Bears were to play the Packers now, it likely would be a much different game and story than it was in the opener. But we’ll have to wait until a Dec. 16 rematch to see if Green Bay has found itself and if the Bears have been found out.

The Bears’ defense is second in points allowed per game (16.2) and yards per game (294.5). That’s not going to change, not with Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, et al. You don’t need to be a football savant to know that. The Dolphins, Sunday’s opponent, are beat up on the offensive line, and the only thing to do is to pity them when Mack’s mouth starts foaming.

No, I haven’t been chugging Kool-Aid. I have had my fill of bad Bears teams, though. I know a good one when I see one. I see a great defense and an NFC North that is there for the taking. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t look like himself, probably because of an injured left knee.

The Bears have a great shot at winning the division. I thought it might take another year or two for that possibility to present itself, if everything went their way. As it turned out, all they needed was Mack coming their way.